Japanese Religions Unit sessions at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting (online)

Levi McLaughlin's picture

Hoping that many of you will be joining us online in the coming days at the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting. The Japanese Religions Unit has a series of exciting panels. Please add these sessions to your AAR schedule. Look forward to seeing colleagues and friends, however virtually, in the coming days.

Complete panel descriptions and paper abstracts are available at https://papers.aarweb.org/online-program-book?keys=japan&field_timeslot_target_id=All

Japanese Religions Unit


Monday, November 30, 6:15 PM-7:45 PM (EST UTC-5)

Barbara Ambros, University of North Carolina, Presiding

What does the academic study of religion marginalize or exclude? How is the disciplinary boundary of the American Academy of Religion demarcated? What subjects of study fall outside of such a boundary? This panel reflects on these questions through case studies from Japan, specifically by examining ghosts, vengeful spirits, demonic forces, and other supernatural agents often trivialized in Japanese religious studies due to its traditional focus on Shinto kami and Buddhist divinities. The panel analyzes an array of examples from different historical periods, including the role of vengeful spirits in a medieval Buddhist ritual; the worship of oni (demons), dragons, and peasant ghosts in early modern Japan; and the genealogy of jibakurei (earthbound spirits) in modern and contemporary Japan. The papers demonstrate the need to approach non-kami/non-buddha entities as subjects of serious academic inquiry not only to further nuance the existing kami-buddha paradigm, but also to complicate the basic parameters of the study of Japanese religions. More broadly, the panel situates Japan as a lens for scholars of religion to reflect on their methodological assumptions at this year’s AAR.

Eric Swanson, Loyola Marymount University

Addressing the Spirits of the Heian Capital Through Buddhist Doctrines and Rituals of Salvation

Caleb Carter, Kyushu University

Beyond and Betwixt: Situating the Demonic and Dragonesque in Japanese Religions

Takashi Miura, University of Arizona

Fearing the Powerless: Sakura Sōgorō and the Rise of Peasant Onryō in Early Modern Japan

Kristina Buhrman, Florida State University

Transformations of Earthbound Spirits: The Japanese Reception and Adoption of Jibakurei from Spiritualism to Masukomi to Modern Ethnography


Norika Reider, Miami University


Japanese Religions Unit and Society for the Study of Japanese Religions

Theme: Shinto Epistemologies in Global Perspective: Rethinking Gender, Nation, and Ritual

Wednesday, December 2, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Jolyon Thomas, University of Pennsylvania, Presiding

In recent years, the number of historical studies on Shinto institutions and ideology has increased significantly. By contrast, many aspects of postwar Shinto, such as the livelihoods and beliefs of shrine priests, how power and authority are created and challenged within the shrine world, gendering of Shinto roles, the economics of ritual, and transnational dimensions, remain under-explored. This panel seeks to partly fill this gap by offering a number of new perspectives on contemporary Shinto epistemologies. The papers use ethnographic research to challenge established notions of Shinto as a ritual tradition centered on a unified episteme that is foundational to the Japanese nation-state, and contribute to a growing awareness of the internal diversity and global interconnectedness of Shinto in past and present. We look at different ways in which totalizing categories such as the nation, man/woman, and “Shinto” itself are given shape, enforced, and negotiated. Similarly, we look at various ways core Shinto categories are reinterpreted and given shape. This endeavor is not only important for the subdiscipline “Japanese religion” but also has implications for other fields.

Levi McLaughlin, North Carolina State University

Uses of “Shinto” in Nippon Kaigi: Coming to Terms with an Elusive Category

Dana Mirsalis, Harvard University

“What’s the Value of Female Priests?”: Discourses on the Gendered Priesthood in Postwar Shinto

Aike Rots, University of Oslo

Shinto Kami Are Not Special: Methodological Nationalism, Translatability, and the Necessity of Intra-Asian Comparison

Kaitlyn Ugoretz, University of California, Santa Barbara

Altared Ontologies: Sacred Anxieties in the Glocalization of Shinto Traditions


Helen Hardacre, Harvard University

Japanese Religions Unit Business Meeting follows immediately

Asuka Sango, Carleton College, Presiding

Levi McLaughlin, North Carolina State University, Presiding


Buddhism Unit and Japanese Religions Unit

Theme: The South Asian Roots of Modern Japanese Buddhism: Seeking Śākyamuni by Richard Jaffe (University of Chicago Press, 2019)

Tuesday, December 8, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

Hwansoo Kim, Yale University, Presiding

Richard Jaffe breaks new ground in this book Seeking Śākyamuni: South Asia in the Formation of Modern Japanese Buddhism (2018). Moving beyond the assumption that modern Japanese Buddhism was shaped by a unidirectional flow of ideas from the West to Japan, Jaffe shows how an interweaving of global events, ideas, material culture, and networks among Japan, South Asia, and Southeast Asia transformed Buddhism in modern Japan. In excavating the multi-level and multi-faceted relationships that Japanese Buddhists fostered with South Asian and Southeast Asian Buddhists from the late nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth century, Jaffe’s research challenges scholars to pay greater attention to the influence of the south on (Japanese) Buddhist modernity. In this roundtable, five panelists who study Buddhism from various geographical areas through a range of approaches will share their perspectives on Seeking Śākyamuni, followed by a response from Professor Richard Jaffe. The panel will then open the floor for discussion. We very much look forward to a vibrant conversation on the dynamic nature of Asian Buddhist modernity.


Pamela D. Winfield, Elon University

Charles Hallisey, Harvard University

Anne R. Hansen, University of Wisconsin

Justin McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania

Alicia Turner, York University


Japanese Religions Unit

Theme: Examining the Scholarly Guilds of Shingon Buddhism in Medieval Japan

Thursday, December 10, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

Takashi Miura, University of Arizona, Presiding

This panel proposes to address the status of scholarly guilds and the activities of scholar-monks within Shingon Buddhist lineages in the 12th-14th centuries. Through these networks of scholarly guilds, scholar monks who inhabited these spaces constructed, negotiated, and contested the meaning of the category of the "esoteric" teachings through the writing of treatises, the establishment of new forms of rituals and practices, and active engagement in ritual debate. In order to clarify what "scholarly guilds” of the Shingon lineages looked like in medieval Japan, the panel will address three themes: the identity of the scholar-monk, the negotiations seen in clarifying the categories of “exoteric” and “esoteric” teachings, and the intersections seen between issues of doctrine and ritual practice. Each panelists will share their perspective on these three themes from the perspective of their specific focus of research, which includes debates on visions of the cosmos, discussions of death-bed rituals, the production of commentarial treatises, and the status of kami worship in relation to debate rituals.

Aaron Proffitt, State University of New York, Albany

Death on the Mantra Path

Elizabeth Noelle Tinsley, UC Irvine

Henmyō'in's Lost Altar: Shingon Debate Culture and Scholar Monks of Kōyasan

Eric Swanson, Loyola Marymount University

The Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Identities Through Commentaries on Mahāyāna Faith

Takahiko Kameyama, Ryukoku University

The Secret Views on Cosmos in Medieval Shingon Buddhism: The Significance of the Shingon Doctrinal Debate “Is Our Dharma Realm Completely Unified or Multiple?”


Asuka Sango, Carleton College

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